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Islam and Politics ( 22 Sept 2010, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the Movement for Political Self-Determination for Jammu and Kashmir-- Part 4

By Yoginder Sikand,

Echoing his mentor Maududi, Geelani argues that Kashmir, whether as an independent country, or, ideally, for him, as part of Pakistan, must become an ‘Islamic state’. ‘Our goal is the establishment of Islamic government (islami hukumat)’, he contends.  The ‘freedom’, he says the Kashmiris are struggling for, ‘is for the sake of Islam’.  Indeed, and quite contrary to obvious reality, he regards the ongoing struggle against Indian rule in Kashmir as motivated primarily by this concern, not by economic impulses, and not even by ethno-nationalist concerns as Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists would see it. Thus, viewing the struggle through the prism of Islam he seeks to delegitimize the Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalist agenda at the same time as he seeks to present the struggle as a distinctly religious, as opposed to a mere political or ethno-nationalist, one.

To Geelani, Islam is ‘incomplete’ without state power. The ‘Islamic state’, he believes, is a pivotal node of Islam, for it is only through such a state, he seems to argue, that what he regards as Islamic laws, that cover every conceivable aspect of a Muslim’s personal as well as collective lives, can be imposed on its subjects. A secular, democratic state, by definition, is anathema, for that would mean, as Maududi had repeatedly claimed, the ‘rule of man’ rather than the ‘rule of God’ (hukumat-e ilahiya). Geelani insists, providing his own example, that every Muslim must struggle to establish an Islamic political dispensation wherever he or she lives, regarding this as an essential task in the struggle for the ‘establishment of the faith’ (iqamat-e din). 

Geelani paints a striking contrast between the ‘Islamic state’, on the one hand, and a secular, welfare state, on the other, bitterly denouncing the latter even if it is able to better serve and meet the secular needs of its Muslim citizens. Islam and secular democracy being, in his view, wholly opposed to each other, the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir are incapable, so he suggests, precisely because of being Muslim, from accepting to live in India, a state that officially defines itself as a secular democracy, especially since India, as he describes it, miserably fails to live up to its secular and democratic claims. Even if India were to meet the secular or ‘worldly’ needs of the Kashmiri Muslims better and more effectively than Muslim Pakistan, he seems to suggest, it can by no means serve as a replacement for the ‘Islamic state’ that he insists on. In a public address delivered after his resignation, along with other members of the Muslim United Front, from the Jammu and Kashmir state assembly in 1989, shortly after the outbreak of the militant movement in Kashmir, Geelani claimed that he and his colleagues had participated in the 1987 elections solely for the sake of Islam, suggesting that this was a strategy to facilitate Kashmir’s transformation into an ‘Islamic state’. Defending, in this way, his controversial decision to participate in the elections held under the Indian Constitution, he claimed, ‘We were elected not to give water, hospitals, schools, and solve small problems, and we did not ask you for votes for this. Rather, we asked, and got, votes for certain principles. Foremost of these was the service of Islam (islam ki khidmat) so that in the state assembly we could champion Islamic principles and oppose laws opposed to Islam.’  He went on to relate that when the then Chief Minister of the state, Farooq Abdullah, mocked him for ‘asking people to vote for him in the name of the Quran’, he ‘boldly answered, “Yes, we asked for votes for Islam”’. When Abdullah retorted that ‘the Quran cannot give the people water, roads, hospitals, employment and improve people’s economic conditions’ but that he could, Geelani countered him by saying, ‘We are proud that Islam is a complete system. Under every condition we will work for its supremacy. Islam removes people from the slavery of people, but your secularism makes the people slaves of Delhi. Islam provides a practical message of peace and wisdom, but your political bargaining has given the Kashmiris years of humiliation, poverty, moral corruption and horrendous slavery, and nothing else, and now you are proudly trying to get people even more entangled in the chains of slavery of roads, hospitals, water and jobs. Under no conditions do we want these. We cannot accept nationalism, secularism and slavery’. 

Interestingly, although Geelani repeatedly insists that the goal of the Kashmiri ‘movement’ is an ‘Islamic state’, he does not provide any details at all about the polity that he dreams of and which he sees as mandated in Islam. At his hands, the ‘Islamic state’ is reduced to a mere slogan, conjuring up visions in the minds of his listeners and readers a system allegedly providing perfect social justice and equality, which he repeatedly contrasts with the unrelenting oppression that he describes the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir laboring under Indian rule. That Geelani simply bandies about the ‘Islamic state’ as a slogan, a device to mobilize popular support for his opposition to Indian rule, without providing any blue-print of such a state or explaining how it would be able to deal with the complex demands of modernity is hardly surprising. In this he is simply following in the footsteps of scores of other Islamist ideologues across the world for whom the ‘Islamic state’ is little more than a tool to mobilize support against ruling regimes by evoking memories of an alleged ‘golden Islamic past’. It is also probable that their silence on the details of the ‘Islamic state’ is a well-thought of tactical move. Were these ideologues to spell the details of their political project in clear, detailed terms, it is likely that it would cost them the support of a sizeable section of otherwise potential followers whose understanding of Islam, and of the relationship between Islam and politics, differs widely from theirs. 

The ‘Jihad’ in Kashmir

Much confusion exists about the role of religion, specifically Islam, in the ongoing Kashmiri Muslim struggle against Indian rule. Many Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists who aspire to an independent, democratic, and secular state would publicly announce, particularly before non-Muslims, that their struggle has nothing to do with religion per se, and that it is purely ‘political’. Since they aspire to establish an independent state with borders corresponding to those of the state of Jammu and Kashmir as in August 1947, including Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist-majority Leh, they feel it necessary to claim before non-Muslim audiences that their movement is not inspired by religion, or, related to it, religious communalism. To admit the contrary would, they feel, taint their movement as ‘communal’, even ‘fundamentalist’, and as representing Muslim hegemony over the non-Muslims of the state, thereby robbing it of legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. Further, since for them their Muslim-ness may be simply incidental, no more than an identity inherited at birth, they may not regard Islam as the essential driving force of their struggle just as it is not of paramount concern in their own personal lives. Thus, before non-Muslims they would insist that their movement is entirely ‘secular’ and ‘non-communal’, a purely political struggle to secure the right to self-determination, although they might equally readily evoke Islam when addressing a Kashmiri Muslim audience. Yet, as the non-Muslims of the state see it, even Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists are motivated by their religious and communal identity in very fundamental ways, and that their discourses and demands are very powerfully shaped by Kashmiri Muslim communitarian concerns and what they might regard as hegemonic designs. Were they not Muslims, even in a cultural sense, they rightly point out, it is unlikely they would be clamoring for independence from India.  

In contrast to the Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists, who tactically and deliberately fudge over the issue of the role of Islam and Muslim community identity in the azadi movement, Geelani frames the movement entirely in Islamic terms. He declares that the ongoing militant movement against Indian rule in Kashmir is not an ordinary war, but, rather, a jihad, a struggle mandated by Islam and for the sake of Islam, quite distinct from the nationalist/political struggle that Kashmiri nationalists see it as. He does not invoke references to the Quran, Hadith or the fiqh texts, the Muslim juridical tradition wherein rules of jihad are elaborately discussed, to justify this claim. Presumably, he does not need to, assuming that for his Kashmiri Muslim audience such justification is unnecessary and that his claim is self-explanatory. Not being a traditionally trained ‘alim or Islamic scholar, despite the public image of him as one, it is also possible that his familiarity with these texts is limited.

In his Introduction to Nava-e Hurriyat, Saleem Mansur Khalid, a leading ideologue of the Jamaat-e Islami of Pakistan, presents Geelani as the ‘most reliable of all jihadi leaders in Kashmir’, and his book as ‘the most reliable expression of this jihad’. Khalid alleges that ‘oppression and cruelty’ is ‘inherent’ in the Hindus. He speaks of ‘hypocrisy and cruelty’ and ‘animalism’ as being ‘integral’ to the ‘very nature of the leaders of the Hindus’, and of the various non-Hindu communities of India being ‘heavily oppressed’ by the Hindus.  The very ‘nature’ of the Hindus, he appears to suggest, necessitates jihad against them. In this way, he seeks to sanction the militant movement in Kashmir as an Islamically-legitimate jihad. 

Geelani does not make such gross essentialist arguments about the Hindus as a people, although, revealingly, he does not contradict Khalid. At the same time, he seeks to justify his argument that the ongoing militant struggle is a jihad, as distinct from a political struggle or an ethno-nationalist liberation movement, by framing Indian atrocities in Kashmir, and, indeed, India itself, in religious terms, by arguing that the underlying motive of those engaged in the militant movement is Islam, rather than Kashmiri nationalism or simply anti-Indianism, and by projecting final goal of the movement to be the setting up of an ‘Islamic state’. In framing the struggle in this way, he also seeks to delegitimize the Kashmiri Muslim ethno-nationalists who do not share his Islamist vision.

Geelani depicts India as inherently and viscerally anti-Muslim and anti-Islam, using this as his basic argument to justify his claim that the ongoing militant movement in Kashmir is a jihad. ‘India’, he claims, ‘is a bigger enemy of Islam and Muslims than even Israel’.  He refers to the dismal conditions of the Indian Muslims, whom he describes as ‘heavily oppressed’  at the hands of what he portrays as a Hindu state and Hindu chauvinist forces, and mentions the frequent bloody anti-Muslim pogroms, often sponsored by agencies of the state, as ‘proof’ of India’s alleged anti-Muslimism and of India’s ‘Hindu’ identity.  He mocks India’s claims to secularism and democracy, dismissing them as a ‘complete sham’. Ever since India won its independence, he writes, ‘not a single day has passed when the blood of innocents has not been shed’. All of India’s minority communities, including the oppressed ‘low’ castes, he contends, have been victims of this ‘barbarity’, being allegedly faced uniformly with grave and continuous threats to their lives, properties, self-respect, culture, religion, places of worship, language and identity, but the worst off have been India’s Muslims. Hence, he points out, ‘it is but natural’ for the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir, to refuse to live with India and to oppose Indian rule, even by force, in the form of what he calls jihad.

That Indian Muslims are, as a whole, heavily marginalized, and often the victims of state-sponsored violence, is undeniable. So, too, is the fact that the Indian state has done little, if at all, to address their manifold concerns. However, to claim, as Geelani does, that India is viscerally anti-Islam, even more so than Israel, is, needless to say, a complete travesty of facts, a gross and wholly unwarranted exaggeration. It can even threaten to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Geelani is indifferent to that prospect, however. One is tempted to imagine that he might even relish that possibility, for it would only reinforce his claim about India’s credentials and his insistence that the Kashmiri Muslims can at no cost accept to live under Indian rule, which he characterizes as ‘an oppressive and imperialistic system’.

Geelani interprets the large scale Indian army atrocities in Kashmir as an expression of what he claims is India’s inherent anti-Islamism and anti-Muslimism. This perception must be recognized as a major factor for the widespread and continued opposition to Indian rule among many Kashmiri Muslims. Under Indian rule, Geelani claims, ‘the Islamic identity’ of Kashmir, and the ‘life, property, respect, religious places, religion and faith’ of the Kashmiri Muslims are under grave threat. The Kashmiri Muslims, he writes, without adducing any proof, are faced with deadly Indian ‘cultural aggression’.  India, he adds, has consistently denied the Kashmiri Muslims ‘all opportunities to progress economically and educationally’. 

Geelani depicts Kashmir under Indian rule as a veritable hell in order to justify the waging of what he calls a jihad against Indian occupation. It is as if half a decade of Indian rule has brought no good at all to Kashmir. The considerable economic and educational progress of the Kashmiri Muslims since 1947, and the state’s impressive infrastructural development, all made possible because of the Indian presence, are conveniently denied. The fact that Indian-administered Kashmir is considerably ahead of Pakistani-administered Kashmir on major social and economic indices is completely glossed over. That the Indian state has placed no hurdles in the free practice and propagation of Islam in Kashmir is rudely denied—all this in order to reinforce anti-Indianism and justify the cause azadi, ‘freedom’ from India.

Geelani considers what he calls the jihad in Kashmir to be a trans-local phenomenon, not limited just to the confines Kashmir itself. He argues that the oppression of the Kashmiri Muslims, which he attributes to account their faith, is not unique to them alone, however. It is, in fact, so he claims, something that they share with all the Muslims of the entire world. ‘Today, all the Muslims of the world are being tightly bound up in chains of oppression, coercion and slavery. The imperialist forces are creating an unending series of problems for the entire worldwide Muslim ummah, seeking to close off to them all the paths to progress’.  It is thus necessary, he seems to suggest, that all Muslims must take to the path of jihad to confront the ‘imperialistic forces’ that he regards as engaged in a ‘conspiracy’ against Muslims throughout the world.

The trans-local aspect of the jihad in Kashmir also necessitates, Geelani writes, that non-Kashmiri Muslims take an active role in it.  Thus, in an appeal issued in 1992 to the Afghan ‘mujahidin’ Geelani pleaded with them on behalf of what he termed ‘the oppressed people of Jammu and Kashmir’ to ‘come forward to help liberate them from India’ and, in this way, to ‘express their bond of Islamic brotherhood and religious commitment’.  In a telephonic interview with a group of Pakistani journalists in 1993, Geelani insisted, ‘It is the duty of the people of Pakistan to help their oppressed Kashmiri brethren win freedom from slavery […] In the light of the Quran, it has now become incumbent on the people of Pakistan to engage in the jihad [in Kashmir]. They must now stand up and participate in the practical (amali) jihad to help their Kashmiri brethren.’ Participating in the ‘Kashmir jihad’, he went on, was ‘now a binding duty (farz), incumbent not just on the Pakistani Muslims but, rather, the entire worldwide Muslim ummah’. 

At the same time as Geelani characterizes India as viscerally ‘anti-Islam’ and ‘anti-Muslim’ and insists that the armed struggle against Indian rule in Kashmir is a legitimate jihad in which all Muslims across the world must participate, on occasion he appears to contradict himself by moderating somewhat his anti-India rhetoric when it suits his purpose. Thus, in an interview given to the London-based Islamist magazine Impact International, he explained that despite the massive oppression they had suffered at the hands of the Indian armed forces, the Kashmiris ‘have no hate in their hearts for the Indian people.’ He made a crucial distinction between the ‘Indian people’, on the one hand, and the Indian state, on the other, pointing out that it was the latter that the Kashmiris’ struggle was directed against, for its oppression of the Kashmiris. Hence, he went on, if India relinquished its control over Kashmir, the Kashmiris ‘would have no problem in having political relations with it’.  He left curiously unexplained how he could justify the latter scenario if he believed that India was fiercely and inherently anti-Islam.

Geelani betrayed a similar softening of his anti-India rhetoric in an interview given to a group of Pakistani journalists in 1994 arranged for by a Pakistani jihadist organisation. The salience of this is particularly striking in the light of the fact that numerous Pakistan-based jihadist groups have called for nothing less than the destruction of India and its absorption into what they ambitiously call ‘Greater Pakistan’. On this occasion Geelani advised them, ‘Emotional slogans such as “Crush India” are not realistic, and nor do they reflect the spirit of Islam.’ Islam, he explained, ‘invites people to welfare, truth, salvation in the hereafter, the end of oppression, dialogue and understanding between the children of Adam. This is the meaning of the life of the Prophet.’ He cited the example of the Prophet Muhammad who, even when faced with ‘extreme oppression’ at the hands of his polytheist opponents of the town of Taif, ‘did not act to destroy them’, but, rather, ‘prayed for their guidance’. Accordingly, Geelani stated, ‘We must certainly struggle for our rights, but not through mere slogans. Instead of negative sloganeering, we must understand, in a positive way, Islam’s missionary spirit and spread the light of Islam. Slogans calling for destruction [of others] are not our identity. Rather, Islam’s identity lies in inviting [others to Islam], welfare, peace and truth’. 


Ibid., p.20.

Ibid., p. 173.

Ibid., p.65.

Ibid., p.20.

Ibid., p. 173.

Ibid., p.65.

Ibid., pp.35-36.

However, it is interesting to note, not a single well-known Indian Muslim scholar has issued any statement or fatwa declaring the militant movement in Kashmir as a jihad. On the contrary, many such scholars, with far greater Islamic scholarly credentials than Geelani himself, consider it to be, at best, a nationalist movement or a political struggle that erroneously invokes Islamic legitimacy, and several have even gone to the extent of declaring it to be an Islamically-unacceptable fitna or fasad or ‘strife’, the very opposite of jihad, and, therefore, illegitimate. They also claim that the Kashmir case does not fulfill all the various requirements for declaring a jihad according to their understanding of the Islamic scriptural sources. See, for instance, Wahiduddin Khan, Peace in Kashmir (, accessed on 14th September, 2010). Geelani, however, does not refer to these scholars or engage with their arguments.

Ibid., p.7.

Needless to say, this is a view that many Indian Muslim scholars would vehemently oppose as representing a complete distortion of the teachings of their faith.

Ibid., p.147.

Ibid., p.189.

Gilani does not concern himself with the implications of his characterization of India as ‘anti-Islam’ and of his call for jihad against India for the Indian Muslims, who vastly outnumber the Muslims of Jammu and Kashmir. The future of the Indian Muslims in the face of what he characterizes as a jihad binding on all Muslims does not concern him, and nor does he refer to what role he thinks the Indian Muslims should play in the ‘jihad’. Describing the Indian Muslims as heavily oppressed by the Indian/Hindu state and Hindu chauvinist groups, presumably he feels that their position could hardly get worse if jihad is declared against the Indian state.

Ibid., p.50.

Ibid., p.31.

Ibid., p. 253.

In my several visits to Kashmir, I have been told by Kashmiri Muslim friends of Pakistani militants who were sent to Kashmir, fed on fanciful stories of how the Government of India and the Hindus allegedly refuse to allow Muslims in Jammu and Kashmir to follow their religion and even to pray in mosques. On coming to Kashmir they were confronted with a completely different reality. Gilani’s depiction of Islam being under grave threat and attack in Kashmir fits in with this pervasive anti-Indian and anti-Hindu discourse of radical jihadist groups in Pakistan and Kashmir.

Ibid., p.71.

Ibid., pp.82-83.

Ibid., p.92.

Ibid., p. 207.

Ibid., p. 227.

Copyright 2010: New Age Islam Foundation